New Requirements for Substance Abuse Screening in Public Schools

This is a brief overview of the Massachusetts substance abuse screening regulations that were signed into law in 2016 and are applicable to all public school districts. As a reminder, the regulations impose new requirements on school districts for the 2018-2019 school year.

An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education and Prevention (the Law) was signed by Governor Charlie Baker in an effort to curb the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. This law requires that each school district create and report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) a policy pertaining to substance abuse prevention and education.

Generally, this law requires that public school districts, in an effort to reduce substance abuse, institute a verbal screening process at two grade levels. DESE recommends seventh and ninth grade as the appropriate grade levels for screening. School districts then have 90 days to report their results to the state Department of Public Health (DPH).

Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, districts must notify parents/guardians of the screenings before the start of the school year. A parent/guardian may opt out of the screening at any time prior to or during the screening by notifying the district in writing. In recent guidance, DESE has linked to sample parent notification letters from the Massachusetts Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).

The approved screening tool for districts to utilize is the “CRAFT-II Screening Interview.” DPH offers training on this tool to district staff at no cost. The law also permits school districts to opt-out of the verbal screening process if the district has created an alternative substance abuse screening policy.

It is also important to note that districts may not record any statement made by a student during the verbal screening that would expose the students’ identity. Unless the case requires immediate emergency medical intervention or otherwise required by state law, all student responses must be kept confidential unless the student, parent or guarding waives confidentiality in writing.

If you have any questions about the regulations discussed, or about school law generally, please contact any of our attorneys.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.